Justice Department Settles With New Jersey Over Institution
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 10, 2005
TRENTON, NEW JERSEY--The U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement agreement Wednesday with the State of New Jersey over conditions at Woodbridge Developmental center, a state-run institution housing about 500 people with developmental disabilities.
Under the 15-page agreement, the state must protect Woodbridge residents from harm and reduce the incidence of restraints, while improving psychological, psychiatric, health care, and nutritional services, and behavior plans. The agreement also requires the state to serve the residents in the most integrated setting "appropriate to their needs", to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court's 1999 Olmstead decision. That ruling held that segregating people with disabilities in institutions amounts to discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A team of outside experts are to monitor the agreement, which is nearly identical to one reached between DOJ and New Jersey in August 2004 regarding New Lisbon Developmental Center.
The current agreement grew out of an investigation that began in April of 2003, in which the Justice department found 1,597 documented injuries during the previous year. Many of those injuries stemmed from "inadequate supervision, failure to prevent staff abuse and neglect, and an inadequate incident management system".
One resident, whom staff were supposed to check every 15 minutes because he had a history of choking, choked to death on a piece of bread in December 2002 while left unsupervised. A staff member broke another resident's arm. The same resident was later shaken by another employee while sitting in a wheelchair.
The investigators found that confirmed abusers were sometimes transferred to other jobs within Woodbridge in which they still had daily contact with residents.
One resident spent an average of seven hours each day locked into a helmet with a transparent face shield to keep him from sticking his fingers in his mouth.
Officials also learned that some residents were subjected to more than 100 applications of restraint each month -- and were often left in restraints for long periods of time -- even when they no longer presented "problem" behaviors. Some were restrained during their entire waking hours. Others were left in physical restraints overnight. One man was restrained for over 700 hours in March 2003, while there were only 744 hours in the entire month.
Investigators also found that in June 2003, one hundred Woodbridge residents had been determined ready for community placement in accordance with the Olmstead ruling, but that only five had plans in place for them to move into the community by the end of the year.
Woodbridge Developmental Center is one of seven New Jersey institutions housing a total of about 3,100 people with developmental disabilities.
United States v. State of New Jersey, the Woodbridge Development Center (U.S. Department of Justice)